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A reference group is a sociological concept referring to a group to which another group is socially compared. Reference groups are used in order to evaluate and determine the nature of a given individual or other group's characteristics and sociological attributes. Reference groups provide the benchmarks and contrast needed for comparison and evaluation of group and personal characteristics.[1]

"[Reference groups are] groups that people refer to when evaluating their [own] qualities, circumstances, attitudes, values and behaviors." - William Thompson & Joseph Hickey, Society in Focus, 2005.[1]

Reference groups act as a frame of reference to which people always refer to evaluate their achievements, their role performance, aspirations and ambitions. A reference group can be either from a membership group or non-membership group. An example of a reference group being used would be the determination of affluence. An individual in the U.S. with an annual income of $80,000, may be considered affluent when compared to those in the middle of the income strata, who earn roughly $32,000 a year,[2] are used for comparison.[2] If, however, the reference group used to determine this particular individuals affluence were to be the top 0.1% of households in the US, those making $1.6 million or more were used as a reference groups, the individual's income of $80,000 would make him or her seem rather poor.[3][4]

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 Thompson, William; Joseph Hickey (2005). Society in Focus, Boston, MA: Pearson. 0-205-41365-X.
  2. 2.0 2.1 US Census Bureau, personal income distribution, age 25+, 2006. URL accessed on 2006-12-28.
  3. Ehrenreich, Barbara (1989). Fear of Falling, The Inner Life of the Middle Class, New York, NY: Harper Collins. 0-06-0973331.
  4. New York Times quote, households with incomes of over 1.6 million. URL accessed on 2006-12-28.